Being well means working well: boost productivity through a culture of wellbeing

16th May 2018 15:23

Written by Jenna Allen, Research Director and Employee Engagement Research Lead. Email Jenna direct here.
As I write this article in the lead up to Mental Health Awareness Week (14th-20th May 2018), I reflect on my own past experiences in the workplace. In so many ways my work positively influences my health and wellbeing – it gives me a sense of purpose and identity, it is challenging and rewarding, and as a researcher, it provides huge variety.
Yet, like so many people across the UK, the culture of a workplace and my own desire to achieve has in the past had a significant impact on my wellbeing. It is only looking back now that I can connect the symptoms I experienced with the excessive pressure I was under. Being in a constant state of fight and flight it is inevitable that it will take its toll on your body and mind.               
This is not uncommon. 
In fact, a study by Cascade HR found that four out of five UK employees describe stress as a ‘way of life’, and figures by Health and Safety Executive state that over half a million people are experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety. 
More alarmingly however, the government-commissioned Thriving at Work report found that up to 300,000 people with mental health problems lose their jobs each year (a rate far higher than those with a physical health problem), and staff turnover, sickness and lost productivity resulting from poor mental health costs the UK economy £99bn per year; £42bn of which is borne by employers. That’s £1,300 for every single employee! 
The issue deepens when we explore further. In the NHS, 91,000 staff have taken at least a month off work due to stress since 2014, with a 19% increase in long-term stress-related absence over the same period. The CIPD Working Lives Survey identified mid-level managers as the most at risk – calling them the ‘squeezed middle’ - as they battle with the integration of strategic and operational requirements. According to the Department for Education, classroom teachers and middle leaders work on average 54.4 hours a week, including the weekend.
Recent studies have also found that presenteeism has tripled since 2010, with 86% of people surveyed now saying they have observed colleagues coming to work who are ill in the last year (up from 26% in 2010), whilst 69% report observing leavism (where people use their leave to catch up on workloads) (Health & Wellbeing at Work, CIPD/Simply Health 2018).
As a nation we are placing more importance on hours spent working, rather than the results achieved. This is a dangerous situation when coupled with the increasing pressure and uncertainty surrounding Brexit, job roles changing (and disappearing) as AI and automation grows, and the blurred lines resulting from radically shifting working patterns and ‘always-on’ tech-fuelled cultures. 
Encouragingly, the debate on this topic is widespread and awareness is improving. 
Businesses are recognising their part to play in improving the health and wellbeing of their workforces. The 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey found that 36% of UK businesses offer ‘beyond the traditional’ programmes (including mindfulness, life balance and financial fitness) and 36% offer mental health counselling programmes (comparing favourably to the 21% global average).
It is hardly surprising when you consider the business case for improved wellbeing. A 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers report found the prime benefits to businesses are cost savings arising from improved sickness absence and employee turnover, fewer accidents and injuries, and better employee satisfaction and engagement. Likewise, there is widespread evidence of the link between improved wellbeing and job performance, efficiency and productivity. The CIPD and VitalityHealth survey found that healthy, highly engaged employees are on average up to 30 days more productive.  
Whilst progress is being made, a lot more still needs to be done. The key is for wellbeing to be seen as a priority in businesses, embedded into its culture and day to day operations. It needs to be something that is driven from the top, not just a transactional tool owned by HR, and businesses should adopt a values-based model of operation with EQ-skilled ‘emotionally intelligent’ managers. An evidence-based approach should then be taken to monitor what factors impact on wellbeing within individual businesses and the relative measures of success of wellbeing programmes. 
Author: Jenna Allen, Research Director
DJS Research
Employee Engagement Research

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